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Do I have to let employees take time off work to look after their family?

Parents and carers are entitled to reasonable time off to deal with an emergency involving a child or dependant — for example, if a child needs to be taken to the doctor. You do not have to pay them for this time off (unless their employment contract says otherwise). As well as covering children, this applies to carers who are looking after their spouse, another near relative or someone else who needs care and lives at the same address.

A parent with at least one year’s service is also entitled to unpaid parental leave to look after a child under the age of five. The maximum entitlement is four weeks each year, with an overall total entitlement of 18 weeks. This also applies to children under the age of 18 who are disabled or who were adopted within the previous five years.

New parents are also entitled to statutory maternity leave, paternity leave or adoption leave when a baby is born or a child adopted.

Parents and carers who have worked for you for at least 26 weeks can also request flexible working — for example, flexitime or working from home. You must seriously consider the request, but can refuse it if you have a good business reason. From 30 June 2014, this right applies to any employee with 26 weeks’ service.

You may want to consider whether flexible working could work in your favour. Offering flexible working can make it easier to attract and retain employees. Properly managed, it can also improve employee performance.

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